Fallout continues from Turkey-Israel spying scandal

By bne IntelliNews October 23, 2013

bne -

Turkey may be on the verge of resuming talks with the EU after a three-year hiatus, but it's the country's deteriorating relationship with the US that is hogging the headlines.

Brussels announced on October 22 that it will reopen accession talks via an inter-governmental conference on November 5, after a long hiatus. However, a day earlier, daily Taraf reported that the US Congress has cancelled a delivery of 10 Predator drones to Turkey - which had been agreed in 2011.

The US was keen to involve Ankara in its anti-terrorism efforts of targeting militants, but Congress (probably the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, UPIreports) decided not to approve the drone sale to its Nato ally. That change of heart comes on the back of intelligence suggesting ties between Turkey's Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT) intelligence agency and Iran's intelligence service are growing.

Those ties exploded onto the front pages after the Washington Post's David Ignatius on October 17 quoted "knowledgeable sources" as saying that the Turkish-Israeli relationship deteriorated to such a point last year that Ankara disclosed to Tehran the identity of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.

Relations had begun souring after Israeli commandos in May 2010 raided a flotilla of humanitarian boats from Turkey that was trying to break the embargo of Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed during the operation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to apologise and there followed tit-for-tat cuts in diplomatic and military ties.

The report on the spying scandal specifically fingers Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, who is apparently already considered suspect in Israel due to his links with Tehran. "Several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as 'the MOIS station chief in Ankara,' a reference to Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however," the report claims.

Israel denies leaking the story to the Washington Post, insisting that such a move would clearly not help its attempts to push the ongoing rapprochement with Turkey. However, Ankara claims the leak is "black propaganda". Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claims the allegations are "without any foundation". He does, however, acknowledge that Israel runs Iranian spies through Turkey.

The US has remained silent on the issue, including the reported blocking of the drone delivery. However, US media outlets report that privately, US officials have confirmed the outlines of the story.

The ramifications of the affair threaten to swell, according to some. Today's Zaman managed to link the issue to Turkey's ongoing difficulties in its relations with Nato, of which it has been a member of since 1952. The paper suggests the timing of story suggests it is linked to Turkey's announcement on September 26 that it has chosen a Chinese defence firm that is under US sanctions to co-produce a $4bn long-range air and missile defence system.

All of which has some analysts, such as Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, asking some fairly fundamental questions. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that Turkey is lost as an ally of the United States but there have been some rather troubling developments recently that have led people to question whether Turkey is still an ally of the United States," Cook said in an interview on the think-tank's website. "If Ignatius' revelation proves to be accurate, it would seem the Turks were putting their pique at the Israelis above a broader Western effort aimed at the Iranians. This is, I think, extremely, extremely troubling."

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